Every time a photo of a hunter with a lion or an elephant goes viral ala Kendall Jones or a famous Brit like Ricky Gervais mouths off with an anti-gun, anti-hunting opinion, we get a glimpse of just how far removed most people are from the realities of the wild world. Though we certainly have our share of kooks here in the U.S., the disconnect sometimes seems stronger among foreigners — and there’s a reason for that.

The reason is that the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is unique to the U.S. It’s the best, most sustainable, most democratic method of wildlife management the world has ever seen, and no other country does it quite like we do. In North America, wildlife belongs to the people — not the government, the ruling class or the wealthy, as in many other places. How did this come to be?

In the mid-1800s as the U.S. population was expanding westward, wildlife took a serious hit from unregulated hunting and rapid development. Some species, like the passenger pigeon, disappeared for good. Other species, including whitetail deer, wild turkeys, bison and elk, were driven to the edge of extinction. Concerned sportsmen, Teddy Roosevelt among them, banded together and demanded laws and regulations that would protect wildlife while still allowing for hunting and sustainable harvest.

Those efforts led to the passing of laws that formed the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and became the primary mission of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The Model is based on seven principles:

#1 – Wildlife Is Held In The Public Trust

In North America, natural resources and wildlife on public lands are managed by government agencies to ensure that current and future generations always have wildlife and wild places to enjoy.

#2 – Prohibition On Commerce Of Dead Wildlife

Commercial hunting and the sale of wildlife is prohibited to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations.

#3 – Democratic Rule Of Law

Hunting and fishing laws are created through the public process where everyone has the opportunity and responsibility to develop systems of wildlife conservation and use.

#4 – Hunting Opportunity For All

Every citizen has an opportunity, under the law, to hunt and fish in the United States and Canada.

#5 – Non-Frivolous Use

In North America, individuals may legally kill certain wild animals under strict guidelines for food and fur, self-defense and property protection. Laws restrict against the casual killing of wildlife merely for antlers, horns or feathers.

#6 – International Resources

Wildlife and fish migrate freely across boundaries between states, provinces and countries. Working together, the United States and Canada jointly coordinate wildlife and habitat management strategies.

#7 – Scientific Management

Sound science is essential to managing and sustaining North America’s wildlife and habitats.

It’s easy to rag on government agencies like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for things you disagree with, but it can’t be denied that this conservation model has been a roaring success. Anyone whose backyard is overrun with whitetails or wild turkeys can attest to the tremendous rebound those species have made thanks to conservation efforts and sustainable hunting.

In addition to all this, hunters began to realize that it takes money to fund conservation, and in the early 1900s they actually asked — demanded! — to be taxed in order to provide the necessary funds. Sportsmen successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937, which levied an 11 percent tax on the sale of all sporting arms and ammunition. Over the years the act was amended to include the tax on handguns, bows, arrows and other associated equipment. The tax money is distributed to the states on a formula basis and provides about 75 percent of each state’s game & fish department’s budget. Funds are used to acquire and improve wildlife habitat, introduce wildlife into sustainable habitat, research problems and take surveys of wildlife, acquire and develop public land, and fund hunter education programs.

Through these self-imposed taxes, hunters (and anglers, via the 1950 Dingell-Johnson act) have contributed more than $17.5 billion since 1937, including $1.1 billion last year alone. Ask a mountain biker, bird-watcher or hiker sometime how much money they have contributed to pay for that public land they’re enjoying.

In light of all this, it’s clear that hunters and anglers are the ultimate conservationists. We care about wildlife and the land in a way the anti-hunters will not and do not want to understand. But if you can share the facts about all we do for wildlife, you can educate your nonhunting friends about how hunting is a vital cog in the wheel of conservation.

It’s time to take back our own reputation and let the nonhunting public know why we hold our traditions so dearly, and show them we’re not old-fashioned, bloodthirsty savages. We’re the ultimate conservationists, we do more for wildlife than anyone else, and we’re proud of it.

Featured photo by John Hafner